Sunday, 31 August 2014

Female Agency in AIF

I sometimes have ideas for AIF stories that involve a woman protagonist. When I try designing a game around these stories, I often have problems with not enough female agency. I cannot think of enough interesting choices or challenges in the game for the protagonist to make for an interesting game. Does anyone have any tips or ideas on how to build good AIF games with woman protagonists?

I may simply suffer from poor imagination but I've noticed that even women writers of AIF often choose to write from the male perspective. Do I just need to get over some cultural hang-ups? Can normal male-perspective games simply be rewritten from a female-perspective? The idea of a female-perspective sex romp where a woman has sex with anything that moves doesn't sound like it would have enough interesting choices and challenges to me, but maybe I'm not thinking about it hard enough. Am I simply locked into the standard stereotypical thinking that men need to convince women to have sex, but women have no problem convincing men to have sex? A game about sexy cheerleaders visiting a bible camp might work, but it would be outside my comfort zone.

Do AIF games written with a woman protagonist need different challenges and plotlines than AIF games written with a man protagonist? Would these games work better if they focus on women wanting sex but not too much? If they focus on women pleasing their partners so they won't leave for a more promiscuous partner? Are these very retrograde ideas for a modern story?

Would it be better to deemphasize the sex entirely? AIF games with a male protagonist often focus on having as much sex in the most extreme way with as many women as possible. The challenge is in figuring out how to satisfy some minimal needs of the women so that they have sex with the male protagonist. Would a better game design be to still have a lot of sex, but the sex shouldn't form the primary goals and challenges of the game? The woman protagonist would spend the game solving non-sex related goals and challenges, and sex would happen along the way? Is that the best way to handle a woman protagonist in an AIF game? On an unrelated aside, would this also be a good design for an AIF game involving a married couple?

I don't want to offend anyone. And I'm worried that even discussing this topic will lead to lots of unhelpful comments. But I would find it useful if others could make suggestions on how to handle female agency in AIF games.

p.s. If people don't like this post, say so in the comments, and I will remove it.


  1. Here are a couple of ideas which seem to fit the themes you're talking about:

    - A game where your behaviour changes that of the men around you. For example, there might be a male NPC who is initially quite dismissive. If you act in an incompetent way or simply do everything he says, his attitude becomes even worse. But if you outmanoeuvre him or hold your own, his attitude changes (along with the moves he makes in the bedroom).

    - A game where, as well as a male NPC who provides the "love interest," you have a couple of female NPCs who you converse with through a menu system, similar to "Meteor." They might be an old friend and a co-worker, for example. Depending on your actions, they can gain or lose respect for you, leaving you the hard question of whether you're so sure of your own desires that you're willing to alienate someone you thought you trusted.

    - A game with two different love interests, who act in different ways. Your "agency" is mostly, "Who do I choose? How do I want to be treated?"


    And here are a couple of settings where actually, the quite reckless "more please" behaviour of most AIF games would still make sense:

    - You're a bridesmaid on a hen night. You're single, and your aims are to get drunk and have fun. Because it's a hen night, there are several rather wild activities planned, and you aim to take advantage.

    - You're a fresher at university, and there are two weeks before term starts properly. A lot people are single and away from home for the first time. Some are keen to study, but others want to enjoy themselves - and that includes you.


    I think the most important thing is to have a consistent setting with a plausible main character. If the setting can react to your actions, so much the better.


    There are two parts of your post which I thought were a bit questionable. One was the part where you suggested a game where the woman has to please their partner so they don't run off. Firstly, a man who acts like that is so completely unlikeable that I don't think I'd want to play a game where I had sex with him. And secondly, what's the woman's motivation for being in that situation? I know it sometimes happens, but normally it's when one or both of them is a jerk and everything's become very awkward. I don't think that would be a fun or easy setting.

    The second was the suggestion that men need to convince women to have sex, but women have no problem convincing men to have sex. My experience is that if a reasonable-looking and relaxed X approaches a Y and they seem to get on together, and X quite openly asks Y out for a drink, then as long as they're both single there's a high chance of things working... whichever way 'round the sexes are. The problem is that - I suspect - a large portion of AIF players are men who can't bring themselves to be that open and relaxed. So they have unhealthy ideas about how "unfair" things are and how hard it is for guys to get a date.


    The most 'respectful' game with a female character would be one which saw them acting like normal people! If that's a normal person who wants to have sex - so be it.

  2. I'll provide a more detailed response for this later, but this is a good subject and if you get shit for this I'll be very disappointed.

  3. You've hit upon the biggest challenge in writing a female player character:

    For a male protagonist, the women themselves are puzzles and they provide a lot of the challenge. The same isn't true for a female player--not many guys are going to refuse a girl who throws herself at them.

  4. "Am I simply locked into the standard stereotypical thinking that men need to convince women to have sex, but women have no problem convincing men to have sex?""

    That stereotype is true... except when it isn't.
    I think the situations where men need to be convinced to have sex are out there, they just might seem more far fetched or less common.
    Since it is a game that you are making, you don't need to worry so much about the far fetched part.
    A couple of challenging pursuits that come to mind are: men who are in committed relationships, men who have jobs on the line, men who are abstinent (it's possible), men who aren't physically attracted to the player character (and need convincing), and men who are reluctant about risky or embarrassing types of sex.
    These challenges are in no way exclusive to women seducing men, and I think there are ways to make good games with ideas that are based in reality but stretch things a bit.

    I think AIF games in general should have new and different challenges and plot lines regardless of the gender of the protagonist.
    Ultimately it comes down to what you want to see in the game yourself (how much sex, amount of non-sex goals, etc).
    I personally find it most important that characters who are interested in sex with someone have their motivations clear to the player either before sex or after.
    Games where I never know why someone is interested feel kind of hollow or incomplete.
    I'm probably not qualified to give tips, but those are my thoughts anyway.

  5. You can also try that lead: a woman that have many lovers and try not being busted by their wives, or other lovers, or colleagues, or neighbours... (and a story like this, can also work for a man as main character)

  6. "Would it be better to deemphasize the sex entirely?"

    This is the most common mistake I see with female protagonists in AIF. The author is either unable or unwilling to depict a female viewpoint character as being sexually attracted to a man. Unable because they don't feel comfortable writing against their sexual orientation. Unwilling because they're writing for a male audience that might be turned off by the idea of finding a man sexually attractive. The usual solution is to either make the object of the PC's affections female (which is an acceptable compromise for AIF), or to remove the idea of the PC being attracted to their partner at all and replace it with the PC having sex because they're coerced (which I don't find an acceptable compromise for AIF, unless the coercion is the entire point of the game). If it's any comfort to you, this is something that even very experienced authors struggle with (GoblinBoy being a notable example).

    "Do AIF games written with a woman protagonist need different challenges and plotlines than AIF games written with a man protagonist? "

    I would say no. With AIF all you need to do is explain to the player why they (as the PC) find a particular person attractive and then place some obstacles between the PC and the fulfillment of those desires. The former is more difficult with a heterosexual female PC and a heterosexual male player, but if a female protagonist doesn't have any sexual desires, they're not going to have any agency either (at least in AIF).

    The kinds of obstacle I'm thinking of are things like the PC having a rival, the fact that the characters' families are enemies, the protagonist or lust object having responsibilities that pull them in other directions, or even just the mundane process of building a relationship.

    Note that "men need to convince women to have sex, but women have no problem convincing men to have sex" is not something that's true in either pornography or real life generally (with the exception of the pick-up artist community). I'm personally glad that AIF has progressed beyond treating NPCs as puzzles that need to be 'unlocked' with the right action or object, because it's hard to feel sexually attracted to a puzzle.

    "The idea of a female-perspective sex romp where a woman has sex with anything that moves doesn't sound like it would have enough interesting choices and challenges to me."

    You could remove the words "female-perspective" and "woman" from that sentence and I think it would still be true. Romps don't have interesting choices and challenges no matter what sex the PC is, because that's not what romps are about. There's really nothing to stop you from doing a romp with a female PC, other than the fact that a sizable proportion of your audience probably wouldn't be interested in it (and a minority would loudly say so). But you know what? Fuck the audience. If you write what you want to write then it's more likely that the game is going to be good, and a good game will find an audience regardless of its subject matter.

  7. I am an expert on this subject! Well, maybe not, but I can pretend to be. :>

    According to the AIF Games List, I am tied with Lucilla Frost in terms of having the most games written with a female PC (we both have three games each with female protagonists).

    The one thing many of the AIFs with female PCs have in common is this: sex is often an act of peril. Very often it's forced onto the PC against her will, or the PC doesn't seek it out. The PLAYERS may enjoy it, but the implication is that the PC doesn't. (Indeed, a lot of games with female PCs have a ton of "bad ends", and for the player it is more enjoyable to find those then the correct "good end").

    This is in sharp contrast to the traditional male PC AIF where in sex is the goal. Often it's offered as a reward after the player solves a number of puzzles.

    Now, sometimes, sex is not an act of peril for the female PC. But in a lot of those situations, sex becomes a weapon. A tool, the ends to a means. The female PC uses her body to seduce her way past male NPCs to accomplish her goals. Casabian Virus, Planescape: Encouters or Casting are examples of this.

    Sometimes games use both of these. The British Fox series have plenty of both sorts of scenes, although leaning more heavily towards the first type.

    All of these is shaped by the way western media and culture views sexuality differently for the two genders. Girls are not typically expected to enjoy to want sex in and of itself. They're expected to either use it as a tool, if they're "bad girls", or to offer it up to the right guy as a prize if they're a "good girl". This is obviously a very skewed perspective of how people behavior, but we're not going into the gender politics here, just stating that how the media tends to portray female sexuality.

    And let's be frank here, for the most part AIF is not a very accurate depiction of human social interaction. It serves as fantasy for a primarily male audience. So naturally most AIF tends to play to those above stereotypes.

    The one exception I can think off? David Whyld's Choice games, which is much more F than it is a & i.

    1. Continuing on my previous post, I don't think it's very hard to write games as a female PC. It may be hard to write it WELL, but I think everything can be hard to write well.

      In terms of your comment about is it possible to write male PC games into a female PC game, I think it's possible, but it's not a simple matter of just flipping the genders around. There would be a change of tone or theme.

      Let's take GoblinBoy's "The Camping Trip" for example. If you wanted to write a female PC version of that game, there would be a lot of ways to do it. The female PC could be taking on Becky's role, and the challenge is fending off the aggressive come-ons by Mike, trying to stay faithful to her boyfriend who in term may not be himself faithful. Or the female PC could take on the Melissa role, trying to seduce Becky's boyfriend. But certain aspects of the original wouldn't translate well. The competition aspect is a bit unbelievable for two female characters. And the whole virginity aspect is basically right out. This is because while female virginity is considered in our culture to be something to be saved and treasured, male virginity is something shameful, for a boy to be rid of as soon as possible. Thus it'll be hard to have a game based on the idea of two girls having a bet to see who would steal away the virginity of a boy first.

      As a thought exercise, please consider the reverse. Turning a female PC game into a male PC one. Consider say, British Fox. Imagine if the genders of all the characters were reversed in that game. The main character is a studly male superhero named Captain Brit, but despite his powers he is constantly captured and subject to sexual torment by villains. Taking some of the scenes wholesale from the original game, Captain Brit would do things such as... get captured and gangbanged by both male and female villains, strip naked and present his naked ass and chest to the male supervillain in order to "put him off his guard", or perform oral sex on a pair of guards as an alternative to fighting them.

      Again, the tone and theme would have to be reworked before the gender flip can work.

    2. I don't think that the British Fox genderflip would really have any trouble working, unless with "working" you mean necessarily appeal to exactly the same group of people as the standard one.

  8. rip_cpu pretty much summed it up:
    An issue with a lot of AIF games with female protagonists (at least when it comes to making them interesting for female players) is that women do not exactly seem to be the ones looking for sex and thus, while the players' goal remains the same (sex), the PCs goal is different.

    And that's pretty ridiculous, when you think about it.
    Experiences may vary, of course, but in what relationships (and other experiences with women) I had, a woman's sex drive can be just as strong as a man's. Of course, relationships are a different situation (although there seem to be few AIF games that really focus on a realistic relationship with only one partner [as opposed to sleeping around]) but the underlying issue here is that the gender image of women is that they are frigid and reluctant to enjoy sex while men think of nothing else when, in reality, a lot of women are just as much sexual beings as men are. Which, of course, is easier to say than to admit that, if a woman does not achieve an orgasm, it is, in the majority of cases, the man's fault for either not having the skill/dexterity necessary or not paying enough attention to his partner in the first place.

    I, for one, would love to see some more female agency (as NPCs and as PCs) in AIF games and, on that same note, a few more AIF games exploring relationships in a more reasonable fashion (which probably wouldn't have to result in any kind of "loss" of sex scenes).

  9. "... while the players' goal remains the same (sex), the PCs goal is different."

    Nailed it. Generally speaking, male AIF players (who comprise the vast majority of the audience) aren't interested in role playing. They view the PC as an extension of themselves and take action accordingly. While the caveman approach works fine where male analogues are concerned, I think it's fair to say that (typically) girls don't operate in quite the same way.

    As a result, I think it's nigh-on-impossible to build a realistic narrative around a female PC with full sexual agency whose end-game isn't screwing everything that moves. When it's all said and done, most male players will default to treating all female characters as lust objects, whether they're NPCs or the PC. If the PC is female, a male player will probably try to guide her into sexual situations at every opportunity.

    This is why, IMO, so many female-driven AIFs feature a PC with limited agency.

  10. First, thank you for the post.

    Sure, there are sexist assumptions built into your questions, but as many have noted they mirror the sexist assumptions built into the AIF audience, and thus are fair game for discussion.

    There's nothing wrong with a good romp, and while it will never be as popular as a male-PC version (probably), it also elides a lot of the trickier issues. I think one of the great unwritten AIF games was the "other side" of Last Week Before the Wedding. That game certainly toyed with the implication that while the PC was getting his romp on, his fiancée might be doing the same. Were I ever motivated to write a sequel in someone else's universe, it wouldn't be School Days 4, it'd be that game. With a little more depth (I'd want there to be some guilt and the potential for consequences), but still a romp.

    That said, many popular games could easily be rewritten -- virtually without change -- as female-POV games. The question is whether or not the players will accept female agency of that sort. For example, in Camping Trip we already know that Becky 1) has a bet with Melissa regarding sex she's obviously expecting to happen, and 2) is entirely willing to go farther with Mike, both in secret and while bottle-spinning, than with the boyfriend. Now, I have no problem believing that character, but you can see all through this thread that some would.


  11. SD3 could easily have been written from Molly's perspective. Or -- and perhaps more fun -- Becky's. could just do a straight gender swap for the characters and play as Anna, and nothing else would change (not even the plot). I've always thought that a version of Meteor in which one played *both* Anna and James, with and against each other, was a missed opportunity of sorts...though obviously a theoretical once, giving the size and the logistics.

    GB actually did OK with female perspective games in his GoP series (by "OK" I mean that the sex wasn't any more coercive than it was when the PC was male; his difficulties in this area were more general, rather than specific to the times when the PC was female). That said, here's a specific example of female agency vs. its lack:

    In GoP3 (and the short spinoff, the name of which escapes me at the moment), the female PC has to fellate Phallius to make certain things happen. Over and over and over (and over) again. Now, this is presented as something the female PC is eager, even desperate, but certainly never less than willing to do. There's actually an in-game explanation for it, but: how much more interesting would it be if she really wasn't? At the very least, play it for laughs ("Again?!? I have to go down on your ridiculous horse cock again? You're sick, Phallius.") or make it a puzzle (the PC finds others to do it for her...and maybe has to do it the last time, because everyone else is worn out). The point is giving her a choice rather than making it both inevitable and unexamined, and making her role in it entirely passive.


  12. I admit that, for me, a complex and realistically-motivated female PC AIF would be just as interesting as the male kind, but I know from surveys that mine is not the majority view, and so we're unlikely to see many games of that type.

    So with that in mind, I'd rather see more attention paid to female agency in male-PC AIF. For example, Molly in SD2 is a doormat, while Molly in SD3 has a decent bit of control over her sexuality (I'd like her to have more, because I think it would have been a better game, but that's a long-worn discussion). But there are way more SD2 Mollys in AIF than there are British Foxes, whether or not the latter is constantly imperiled and coerced.

    To me, the essential questions to be asked...not just while writing the sex but also while writing the buildup to the sex, are: 1) does this woman want to have sex with the PC ("yes, because she has tits and she's in the game" isn't acceptable); 2) why does this woman want to have sex with the PC? ("because he brought me the puzzle solution" isn't acceptable), and 3) what does the fact that this woman had sex with the PC mean? ("twoo wuv, unless he wants to go fuck someone else, in which case I'm always going to be completely cool with that" is only acceptable in a romp).

    If those questions are asked and have answers, I think we get a lot closer to females with agency in AIF.

    -- thundergod

    1. I think you made a lot of valid points.

      What I would like to emphasize a bit more, though, is that both kinds of games are, depending on the player and situation, good. And by both kinds I mean the "easy" games where the PC (regardless of gender) just goes around screwing everything that moves and the "realistic" ones which recognize that, yes, while there are indeed "easy people" to be found in the real world too, sex and the possibility/expectation/desire of it always implies a deeper relationship that needs to be explored.

      "At least buy me dinner first" is, at this point, more of a joking platitude than anything else (I think I can count on one hand how many times I went out to dinner with my girlfriend, and the sex happened WAY earlier than that), but the implication - "Let us get to know each other first and see if you like me and I like you" - is not made less true.

      So, what am I trying to say?
      I think that there is a time, place and audience for every kind of woman in AIF games.
      And I agree that the number of easily-sexed females is staggeringly high compared to those that require at least some sort of effort or try to build a relationship of any kind (and only a fraction of those would actually deserve being called "relationship") and I think that both the questions you suggested and your wish for more female NPC agency should be taken to heart.
      At the same time, however, I would still say that there need to be more realistic AIF games with female PCs. And if those sexualize and perhaps objective males (and that gets a few more women interested in AIF games), then that would be okay too.

    2. Sure, but I think the distinction you're drawing is part of the problem. Looking at women who are eager for sex vs. women who "want something more" is a too-simplistic way of creating female agency, because women don't neatly divide down those lines.

      I think, because the subject is AIF, it's reasonable to start with the assumption that (assuming we're talking about a hetero/lesbian-themed game) most female NPCs in a game are, at least in theory, available for sex. But we can do so much better than the slut/girlfriend binary, whether the AIF is female-PC or male-PC.

      Again, I'm perfectly fine with a simplistic romp. I don't, however, think it's so hard to give female NPCs 1) a character, and 2) at least the appearance of having some sort of contribution to make to the decision to have sex, or what kind of sex to have. Too often, all we get is:

      "Hello desk clerk I just met. I brought you the key to the storage room."

      "Great! Let's go put your penis absolutely everywhere!"

      We can certainly improve on that, whether the PC is female or male.

    3. Absolutely.
      And I'm sorry if it came across as me saying that we need simple-minded sex toys in some games vs. good characters in others. All characters, both male and female, should, ideally, have some character to them. What I meant was more in the sense of the overall difficulty of the games, with some of them being challenging (and thus realistic, as you have to keep a level head and know what to say/do to get what you want, if it's even an option) vs. easy games (where, yes, either the women/men are "easy" or, and I forgot to mention that part, the game kinda "autoresolves" some of the tough sections by letting you make a choice and then playing out some of the scenario [maybe not in the most realistic fashion] whereas a tougher game would have you choose conversation options).

      Of course, women don't always make that distinction between sex and relationship beforehand. Just like men, they sometimes see where things are going. And just like men, they sometimes make spur-of-the-moment decisions they might regret later.
      So, yeah, we're on the same page, I just wanted to emphasize that there's also a reason for some of the simplistic characters (although not for the vast majority of them) and that those romps, at least in terms of their difficulty, are not as much part of the problem as their execution and their depiction of women is; I did a pretty terrible job of doing so but I hope I made it a little clearer what I meant. ^^

  13. It's interesting that no one has mentioned Emy Discovers Life yet: a very early example of a female PC, and one that solved the male player identifying with a female PC puzzle in a deft way. Because Emy is sexually innocent and repressed, the player acts as her sexual driver, encouraging her to do things she resists (thought really wants to). Thus the male player is essentially seducing the female PC from inside her own body, and the typical male-focused dynamics of AIF are not substantially changed.

    It's easy to imagine other scenarios along similar lines (Goblinboy did it in Meteor, of course). But it doesn't really address the question of female agency, since all the agency belongs to the player, not the PC.

    I also would really like to see more realistic female PCs; I've enjoyed playing those few games that feature them.

  14. I'm currently writing a female-perspective game, so I'll let you know after I see how that turns out. ;-)

  15. I think (as someone above already stated) for your classic sex as reward type game to be plausible to the player from a heterosexual female perspective would be to emphasize the object of PC's desires as, well, the actual object of the PC's desires, not just a dildo with legs the PC uses to masturbate at the player's behest.
    With that I don't even mean writing a particularily deep character (although writing an interesting character certainly helps) but just describing their physical attributes with the level of detail the girls in "classic" AIF receive. (Pro-Tip: Write about butts! Most straight girls dig good-looking boy-butts)
    Another way to create a sense of plausibility, that sort of goes hand-in-hand with the first point, is to either describe the PC to only a small degree (so that it is easier for people to identify with them and not just assume it's a tall blonde sex bomb) or make them explicitly non- or only moderately attractive. While it might be ridiculous that a top model would have trouble getting a sad basement-dweller in a sticky Evangelion shirt in the hay, the mousey DnD playing nerdette with an awkward laugh lusting after the college's football team might have more of an up-hill fight.
    Another option would be to not have the goal of the PC be sex in general but fulfilling a specific fetish or kink, with which the guy might not be immediately comfortable (such as a bisexual MMF threesome, bondage, pegging, etc.).

    The problem (if you can call it that) with all these approaches is that they all run danger of not appealling to heterosexual men who turn to AIF to fantasize about having a guy who's bascally them fuck a relative wide array of stunning women. But then again, considering that there's not much money to be made with AIF in general, I don't really see the issue.